Imagine if you will, President Bush or Gov. Sarah Palin saying the following in a sit down interview or a Sunday morning show appearance:
We had a crisis, we kicked it down the can.... These are – just taking those two examples, these are crises you can no longer afford to kick down the can.... The crisis we have here, the American people know we have one and they are ready and willing to start to tackle those problems. You cannot afford now to kick those down the can any longer.
Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann would have their share of guffaws at the gaffe. The Daily Show might use it as a "Moment of Zen" and other broadcast and print outlets would be sure to get their licks in.
Yet neither President George W. Bush nor the Alaska governor said those things. President-elect Barack Obama's chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel did, much to Politico's delight. Yet rather than heap scorn on Emanuel, reporter Carol Lee found the Illinois Democrat's "Rahmbonics" endearing, comparing them favorably to beloved baseball icon Yogi Berra's way with words:
Newly coined Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was on his best behavior during his Sunday show debut this weekend – measured, calm, bi-partisan.
But when it came to the notorious ability of the Illinois political street fighter to mangle the English language – well, let’s just say Rahm hit a touchdown.
Friends and colleagues – particularly in the Clinton White House - have dubbed this phenomenon “Rahmbonics” over the years and on “Face the Nation” and “This Week,” Emanuel engaged in a veritable festival of mixed metaphors.
But Emanuel's Yogi Berra-style translation of the phrase should come as no surprise to those who know him well. Speechwriters in the Clinton White House, where he was an aide, used to collect choice examples of "Rahmbonics" and post them on a bulletin board. Oftentimes they involved sports.
"He'd say something like you can't kick a field goal in the ninth inning," recalled Jake Siewert, a longtime friend as well as a former Clinton press secretary and longtime admirer of Emanuel’s verbal skills.
Shutting a revolving door was another Emanuel classic. He used the phrase in 1998 to explain a Clinton plan to require states to report illegal drug use among inmates before receiving federal money for prisons.
"We have to slam shut the revolving door between drugs and crime," he told The New York Times.
"We kept tabs on them,” said a former Clinton speechwriter who asked not to be named. “There was a certain kind of admiration in involved in this.”
The mix-ups that made it into newspapers, as opposed to those he blurted out in staff meetings, were the ones that intrigued Emanuel's White House colleagues the most.
Quoting Emanuel-style metaphors even became a game among some members of the Washington press corps.
"You figure if he's quoted in the newspaper he'd given it more thought," said Siewert, adding that Emanuel has a sense of humor about his way with words. "He's pretty well aware of it. I mean he thinks fast and talks fast."